Fighting Catholic Gaslighting

Trying to make Catholics believe that any criticism of past fallible Church decisions demonstrates unfaithfulness is gaslighting and should be resisted.

“Gaslighting” is the manipulation of a person by sowing doubt and confusion into that person’s mind. The term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. In the film, Boyer’s character tries to convince Bergman’s that she is going mad in order for him to get jewels hidden in her house. It’s a great movie, an effective strategy, and has been going on in the Church for almost sixty years. 

I came to this conclusion after watching Episode II of Mass of the Ages. Eric Sammons wrote about Episode II a few weeks ago. I had seen Episode I, which is mostly about the beauty of the Latin Mass. Since Episode II deals mostly with Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Vatican II document that initiated the changes in the Mass) and how the Novus Ordo came to be, I had expected I would feel some anger, even outrage. I didn’t. Instead, I felt—relief.   

Episode II clearly shows that the changes resulting from Sacrosanctum Concilium were not intended by Vatican II and were largely the machinations of Archbishop Bugnini, a character of dubious import. I urge you to watch Episode II to see how Bugnini did this and for more details on what might have been his motivation. My concern here is to explain my feelings of relief in the hope that they may be shared by others. 

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My relief came from the realization, after seeing how what has happened did happen, that I need not have any qualms about my reluctance to accept what has happened. As I wrote in an earlier article, much of what was put through in the name of Vatican II was done so through a misapplied sense of obedience. As Ronald Knox has said, obedience is a particularly Catholic virtue. 

It is an admirable virtue and one the Church relies on. It is based on humility; on the idea that someone else may know better than I do. Perhaps the stress on it came about as a result of the Protestant Reformation. The Church was often held together largely by this virtue. It seemed necessary with regard to pronouncements by popes, bishops, and even local priests. You only need to look at the number of pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians to see how a lack of obedience can soon devolve into pure hubris and have terrible consequences.  

To be accused of, or made to feel guilty of, disobedience causes a deep wound in a Catholic. And yet, this virtue can be twisted to make others obey when they shouldn’t, or make them feel guilty if they don’t even when they shouldn’t—in essence, when one is gaslighted. 

Vatican II was (is) treated as a sort of “Second Pentecost” (as though the first one wasn’t good enough). To disagree with “The Council” (it was always referred to as “The Council”) was to go “against the Church.” As I said, this is heartbreaking for a Catholic. 

As one lady in Episode II says, to be loyal to the Tridentine Mass in the aftermath of Vatican II was to be treated as a heretic. And, because of the way the Novus Ordo was explained and promoted, this stigma was attached to other areas of Church life as well. If one was not for ecumenism at all cost, to the proliferation of “ministries” and “ministers,” to folk Masses, to receiving the Eucharist standing and in the hand, etc., one was “against The Council” and, therefore, “against” the Church.  

Yet, like Peter, we felt we had nowhere else to go. We felt, if I may use a current analogy, like one invited to a family wedding or funeral but only on the condition that we provide proof of vaccination and wear a mask.  

Episode II demonstrates that Sacrosanctum Concilium was a problematic document—and probably made intentionally so. It also establishes that the Novus Ordo was not what the bishops intended when they approved it and that many had grave reservations about the proposed changes. 

Therefore, to be wary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and to question its implementation, is not to be “against” the Church. To argue for the practice of the Tridentine Mass is no more to be against the Church than to argue for the overturning of Roe v. Wade is to be “against” the Constitution. (And, indeed, the attitude of the zealots for everything that has come out of Vatican II resembles the attitude of liberals who want to treat Roe v. Wade as a “super precedent.”)

As I said, this has eased my conscience. Those of us who prefer the Latin Mass are not heretics, nor are we “against” the Church. And, I may add, we are not “against” the pope.  

Now, it is abundantly clear that Pope Francis is on the side of those who see support for the Latin Mass as somewhat akin to heresy. Yet one can disagree with him in this matter. It is not disobedience to a father when one disagrees with his poor treatment of the mother. In fact, it is a duty of charity to do so. 

This is important to realize because this disagreement (to put it mildly) is not going to go away. Pope Francis’ language in Traditionis Custodes, his treatment of traditional orders, and his suspension of ordinations in a French diocese sympathetic to the Latin Mass all show that he views the Latin Mass and traditional Catholics as a sort of leprosy that must be stamped out. He has been a sort of “liturgical socialist”; one who, despite all the evidence to the contrary of the failure of his policies, thinks that what is needed is only more of the same; more innovations, more “ministries,” more “openness,” etc. If we just do more, it will work. 

Also, Pope Francis’ appointments to the college of cardinals shows he means—as he has the right, as pope, to do—to “pack” the college with those who agree with him. (And it was a marked failure of the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI not to be more circumspect in their appointments of bishops and cardinals.) It doesn’t take much to know whom the likes of soon-to-be Cardinals Cupich and McElroy will vote for in the next conclave, especially a conclave presided over by Francis’ appointee Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the principal deputy from 2002 to 2006 of now disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. We may well see a series of Francises on the papal throne. The criticism and ill-treatment of a pope, cardinal, bishop, and priest is, and will be, hard to bear for a loyal Catholic. 

My point is that we must fight this gaslighting. We are not being disobedient when we kneel for the Eucharist or sing Gregorian chant or ask to attend the Mass that nourished our ancestors for centuries. The good news is the long run is on our side. As Mass of the Ages shows—and I can’t urge you enough to see it—the Traditional Mass is the one doing what Vatican II hoped for: filling the pews with prayerful participation of Catholic families, especially the youth.  

The movie Gaslight ends with Ingrid Bergman realizing she has been sane all along and refusing to help Charles Boyer, who is carried to prison after his plot has been foiled. It may not be until our grandchildren’s or great-grandchildren’s time (after all, we’ve had sixty years of gaslighting), but we shall be proved sane, and there will be a happy ending.  

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]


  • Robert B. Greving

    Robert B. Greving teaches Latin and English grammar at a Maryland high school. Mr. Greving served five years in the U.S. Army J.A.G. Corps following his graduation from the Dickinson School of Law.

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